Plugging the giant holes in eve new player retention

Eve Online has a vitriollically fanatical player base – people who will defend the game with venom from criticism, want to see as little change as possible (lest it overturns their respective finely honed apple carts) and who will often pay more than one monthly subscription tier. This sounds like a good thing, but it is not. Eve is poisoned by a pervasive ivory tower / waterhead syndrome – a lot of old-timers keep the game aloft. These are often very confident men, highly intelligent, high income in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have been playing the game on and off since inception in 2003. There is a noticeable elitist, patriarchal, conceited, pridefull, meritocratic, right leaning and libertarian streak in these folks, and they do not have a problem being viciously abusive to people who have the nerve to state out loud on the eve forums they (gasp!) might not like certain aspects of the game.

The people who made eve are themselves a unique bunch. Eve has a game design culture of elitism, emphasis of being the toughest motherfuckers in game land. I speculate by invoking icelandic Viking culture, but I could invoke other harmful cliches that are less savory and would instantaneously antagonize the old timers of Eve Online against me. If Im posted any of this on the forums I’d experience a level of sarcasm that would induce impotence if I were a man. I am not so instead I eat a pint of Ben & Jerries after posting anything on Eve Forums these days.

I have in the past (like anyone would have notice?) posted that, yes, I adore Eve. I started playing Eve in 2006, played intermittently, but often failed miserably, on account of having quite severe distractability issues. In other words, I have too many hobbies and when I get frustrated with Eve I go away for a year, or a few years.

That leaves us with the ghastly problem of catastrophically low retention problem of new players in Eve. One reason for this is that the process of gradually aquiring early 10-20 million skillpoints (couple  of months) in eve do not feel as exploring a new and wonderful adventure. 

adventure memes | quickmeme

It rather feels like being hazed while eating in a third rate canteen witgh elevator music playing in the background. The early missions are bland and have a <2010 design quality that should simply be regarded as unacceptable. The design of missions is functionally retarded, the graphics are total crap, the plotlines of missions are at the level of a 1980s text adventure and they don’t even count as educational or fun. 

The maker of the game, CCP, is hard pressed to ignore this vacuity in the early game. It alsmost feels as if managements holds those losers in palpable contempt. It is almost as if management quietly says “stop doing that noob crap and join a corporation and start mining goo”.  The nett effect of this neglect of early game content is at least in significant part that the new players who happen to have a somewhat lower level of agency or confidence don’t really connect with the game and go do something else outside the game. And then there’s people ganking new players because they like being assholes, and that’s the most disheartening ragequit-inducing experience available in eve. You accumulate a somewhat more solid ship after literally weeks of play and *pew* you see it go up in a ball of fire on account of some mean guy who treats kill lists with the same passionate abandon as he treats pornhub. 

Let me focus in on the design of missions in Eve. There is a certain habituality in the design of these shitshows that is so lamentably ghastly it beggars belief. This is simply not adequate game design. You pop a ship to a location through a gate, are entered in a part of a solar system that’s designed scan/gankproof and you leverage ship and your personal problemsolving skills to pop some orcs amid some space clutter that looks like it was borrowed from the 1990s. It isn’t even impressive if it were a smartphone game you do while waiting at the dentist office. 

Compared to what Eve Online purports and loudly claims to be, missioning is bad, really really bad and a catastrophically neglected aspect of the game. Game design should never ever ever be a trade-off where the risk/gain formula secretly incorporates a sizeable lump of grinding/boredom. That’s what we call hazing in game design, and it’s an unspoken but loudly audible expression of contempt for new players.

So, what can be done to amend this?

1. Throw out the old structure/asteroid crap content in ‘Mission Rooms’ from level one and replace with 3D assets that is based on credible structures in actual Science Fiction. Complete redesign, as fast as humanly possible. This is the first thing CCP can do, and it will help make the early game less crap. I just played Homeworld 3 and I had to quietly chuckle, as clearly the design of levels in even the old Homeworld games (20 years ago) was decidedly more compelling than what’s still part of Eve in 2024. 

2. Create far far more intricate, complex, dynamic, randomized, less cookie-cutter Missions. Make the mission environments way way bigger. Make objects in mission spaces a lot more meaningful. Make the shapes of objects in mission spaces have actual relevance and impact. Make tactical movement a lot more valuable. Allow players to experience cover when they are near solid structures (bonus to EM resistence within 5km of a meson emitter array, bla bla). Allow for much much more random spawning. Allow intricate manipulation of plotlines doing missions. Make handling goods, structures, resources and loot a lot more engrossing and challenging. Make the storylines in missions less goddamn condescending (travel to alpha centauri and go get down someone’s cat from a tree). 

3. Mission spaces might linger, if you as a player claim them. Allow players to dock maller ships in these permanent/lingerting mission structures, opening up the potential for longer term persistence in what you as a player can do. You might as a player claim a built-up asteroid that allows you to dock up to five frigates there – and it’s yours!  You might find an automated factory space that’s centuries old and it can construct simple items, like hybrid ammo. Keep it simple – these sound like things you can do in any old station, but by giving these simple randomly/rarely spawned and often unique perks to beginning players you instill a unique sense of attachment and accomplishment in your players. As you progress through the game a player may such and such aquire a series of very modest construction hubs, parking garages for specific ships, hidey-holes, investments that over time create a feeling as if you activities actually matter and have real-world impact. You can make such structures contingent on players actually visiting them one a month, or you can allow players to “build up” such early game entities as tangible assets – and then you can let them decay/deteriorate in stages to eventual nothingness. These unique structures/objects/assets/landscaping elements should have really unique appearances and benefits in disparate regions of Eve Space.  It should be somewhat engrossing and entertaining to retain your beloved structures or clutter from level 1 Gurista missions you played years ago, as a token sentimental item fondly remembered, but there’s also your unique Triglavian energy reactor hubs that over time drop absolutely unique items. 

4. Allow players to collect stuff from all over the place and CONSTRUCT super simple entities in space. I know that in terms of server space allocation this will be a pain in terms of database entries, what-e-ver. These are however not headaches for the sustainability officer of CCP to gripe about – these are things that instill a sense of permanence, attachment, fondness in your new players. The diversity of stuff hauled around space and then anchored should be bewildering and result in a massively complex wealth of seemingly useless clutter. This clutter should mostly be unfindable by other players, but very very rarely other players might stumble over your hidey hole secret microstation where you parked a bunch of destroyers back in the day and blow it up. Bad luck it happens – but even if it happens let your players know with a notification email and if the player goes and have a look – lo and  behold there’ll be some debris for a week or two.  This particular way of creating a sense of suspension of disbelief, permanence, relevance, attachment might be lambasted by the old-timer gripers as “wasting game designer time, energy and money, FIX THE BUGS REEEE, but I believe for CCP it’s all hands on deck to retain more new players to the game. 

5. Every solar system – I repeat Literally Every Solar System, and each part of each solar system should from now on me emphasizing uniqueness, suprising elements, persistence in storytelling and design elements. There should be mission hubs that stay, and new players should intermittently stumble over on each other in those spots. This immersive sense of uniqueness should leave long-lasting identifying marks on the game. These could be astrophysical phenomenon that have no sense or purpose but are absolutely bewilderingly unique to that particular place. For instance, there is a bizarre glob of space in system XYZ, right in the trailing wake of a gas giant, which has a number of subtle game effects. This phenomenon is a unique trait of that system, and you can go visit it, take snapshots for the family. Any such unique trait is not encountered anywhere else in the game. Such unique entities should come with benefits as well as disadvantages – parking your astrahus on such a spot should have unique consequences, some good, some bad. These can involve ancient wrecks much akin to elephant graveyards, or pirate activity, or a subtly different modification on wormhole access, or a difference in how triglavians act, or changes to how equipment and certain vessels operate. Right now 99% of space is just repetetive rubberstamped real estate that only serves for the aggrandizement and glorification of the old timers. Places that are just “yet another soccer/baseball/football field/IKEA/CostCo/Target behind a high school” that’s seemingly identical to the one in the last town – and the 20 towns before it. Each system should have dozens such unique bubbles where the game functions a fair bit different than the rest of the universe.

6 – The current state ofg astrophysics and “realism” in eve is abysmal. I can, for instance, fly literal kilometers away from a O star without any concern or consequence. This is downright infantile in its silliness. Gas giants, Stars, Planets – even asteroids – are places where locally there should be consequences. Proximity to stars or gas giants should have implications, including your ship heating up and/or getting damaged. Quicker deterioration of your stations. However, in some such spots detection of your engineering hub or battle cruiser might be more difficult. Flying your battleship near a planet will make it fall towards and crash on a planet last time I read a book about that sort of sciency stuff.  Ships should start receiving significant EM and Heat damage in major parts of any solar system. Likewise, the descriptions of systems, stars, planets should be massively edited. There should be a gradual emergence of well-designed systems that keep with current understanding of planetary science and astrophysics. Clean up the stars for the love of Kittens! 

These are just preliminary ideas. I can update this article for more ideas, just give me a buzz at if you want more of that.